During Dark Times, How Young India Raps

“In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”

This Bertolt Brecht quote never resonated with such relevance in my mind the way it does now when I listen to rap. More than half of you might think I am talking about Honey Singh or Badshah. The rest of you would believe I am referring to Drake or Kanye.

Let me clear the air, it’s neither.

For a typical Indian audience, rap stands for something peppy and jazzy, something which would mention alcohol, girls or cars or anything else which may disgust Indian parents.

Then we have western rap. But in my opinion, no matter how revolutionary Kendrick Lamar’s songs might sound, a lot of Indians might not find such rap relatable.

The release of Gully Boy in 2019, however, changed this scenario – at least for people like me who didn’t experiment much with music and stuck to mainstream Bollywood.

It introduced me to rappers like DIVINE and Naezy whose content is so much more than alcohol and drugs. They portrayed the class and related socio-economical struggles faced by locals of Dharavi. Rap songs like ‘Mere Gully Mein’ and ‘Apna time Aayega’ were relatable and we all hummed along.

The movie successfully brought politically engaging rap songs such as ‘Azaadi’ and ‘Jingostan’ in the mainstream. ‘Azaadi’, the song, reflects the eponymous slogan often associated with freedom of Kashmir and feminist struggles. Dub Sharma, the creator of both the sound tracks, released the song after the 2016 incident in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The commercial success of Gully Boy and the large outreach that the mainstream cinema enjoys, brought fame to the creators of these songs and brought them right in front of a larger audience for the first time.

Also read: ‘Bunch of Thoughts’: A Political Rap on Anti-CAA, NRC Protests

Since then, many people – including myself – started seeing rap in a very different light.

New rap artists started emerging with their own insightful poetry and unconventional music. Some were outright political while others, in some way or the other, posed a challenge to prevailing status quo.

Coming across Prabh Deep’s rap, composed mostly in Punjabi, was one of my top moments of 2019. The Delhi-based rapper often talks out subjects like drug abuse, student suicide, life in ghettos, class struggle and his Sikh identity through his music.

It wouldn’t be wrong to state that rap has become a popular way to show dissent and this combined trend of rap and dissent is cutting across struggles and linguistic boundaries. Zubair Mangrey aka Haze Kay back in the beginning of decade emerged as the first rapper to capture the struggles of Kashmiris against the military occupation. MC Kash’s ‘I protest’ became the anthem of the protests in Kashmir.

Sofia Ashraf back in 2015 created a storm when she rapped against the Unilever Corporation for causing pollution in Kodaikanal, Kerala.

Sumeet Samos, who often brings the class and caste struggles through his raps, says that his compositions are directly affected by things he saw while growing up.

The fact that these young rappers are not afraid to use regional languages and cultural identities in their rap videos makes them more popular.

The current dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act is being sustained through different art forms, of which rap remains the most popular.

Also read: ‘Kya Yehi Hai Achhe Din’: Delhi-Based Artist Raps About the Politics of Hate

Bengaluru, on one hand, saw a huge-gathering of artists rapping their songs against the draconian Act on January 12, 2020 while, on the other hand, Raju Rajkhowa from Assam has been consistently composing raps on CAA and the police brutality unleashed upon student protestors.

Art has always been empowering in the times of crisis. It provides a medium for a movement to grow. Rap, in India, has successfully united several voices, especially the young and the revolutionary.

Leaving the task to explore and indulge in dissent rap, my dear readers, I am closing this piece with few lines from MC Kash’s ‘I protest’:

I protest
Against the things you’ve done
I protest
For a mother who lost her son
I protest
I’ll throw stones and never run
I protest
Until my freedom has come
I protest
For my brother who’s dead
I protest
Against the bullet in his head
I protest
I’ll throw stones and never run
I protest
Until my freedom has come.

Saumya Khatri is pursuing History honours from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. A typical Gen Z, she likes to explore new films and music as well as challenges fascism and patriarchy every now and then. She can reached on Instagram @saumyaaaaaaaaaaa.

Featured image credit: Unsplash